Every fortnight, Partisan hosts a roundtable event for business leaders connected with the built environment. This is our EightyTwenty breakfast.
On this occasion, we discussed the problems that high streets in the UK are facing, and whether they can evolve beyond the established retail model to thrive in the 21st century.
Our discussion also touched on the issue of public spaces, and should there be more, smaller parks in Manchester.
The Problem With Retail
In many areas of the UK, the traditional high street is more like a wasteland. If you’re lucky you might see a couple of charity shops and betting shops, but not many other signs of life.
Consequently, the problem of how to regenerate the high street has been an ongoing narrative for some time.
Is the issue with the nature of retail itself? While high street horror stories have focused on the absence of once-familiar brands, should we be thinking about alternatives to retail altogether?
If the mainstream retail economy is now effectively 24/7, due to the widespread availability of online sales, where does that leave the high street?
The question should be about what the high street is for if its main providers are no longer shops.
Re-purposing the High Street
The high street can be seen as a social space where its primary role is to act as a place where the community can meet and interact.
After all, the traditional, independent high street shop has long been canonised as somewhere that fulfilled a social function as much as an economic one.
Cafes and restaurants are doing better than traditional retail spaces, and there are initiatives to expand the social value of the high street by re-purposing retail spaces.
One such initiative is in Bolton’s Market Place shopping centre. Here, Recode has been offering free courses in coding, within a retail space.
The future of the high street may come to be written by such community initiatives, combined with independent retailers with a sense of clarity about meeting local needs, and providing a social as well as retail space.
High Streets are very much public spaces, and another troubling aspect of the current state of public space is the lack of open and green areas.
The Pocket Parks Concept
Pocket parks are open urban spaces but on a very small scale. The idea is that they serve local communities, meeting a variety of needs and functions.
Last year the Government announced £1 million in funding for communities to create their own pocket parks.
As with the current state of high streets, this is an alternative way of looking at creating more shared, open green spaces in the face of the shrinking and deterioration of traditional park areas.
On the one hand, it represents a kind of resilience and willingness to adapt; on the other, it puts a lot of weight on local communities, and individual groups to devise location-specific solutions.
To what extent can communities transform themselves, or is some sort of broader, regional guiding strategy needed?
Our Guests This Time
Our guests at this Partisan Eighty Twenty breakfast event included:
Chris Cheap, Avison Young
Kirsty Devlin, Recode
Mark Graham, LDA Design
Matthew Grellier, Slater Heelis
James Onions, Paragon
Michael Sacks, Silverdale Investments
Michael Swiszczowski, Chapman Taylor
Gavin Watts, Define Architects